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Elysium

A good premise about haves and have-nots gets dumbed down in this dystopian actioner

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In the new dystopic thriller Elysium, from Neill Blomkamp (District 9), Earth in 2154 is a wreck, an orb of filth and slums. The one-percenters live on a nearby luxury space station known as Elysium. One of Earth's angry, broken workers (Matt Damon) concocts a plan to get to Elysium — he could really use their health-care system — but first he must get past a particularly nasty mercenary (Sharlto Copley) and Elysium's defense minister (Jodie Foster).

Chalk Elysium up as this summer's second disappointing sci-fi feature — the first was Oblivion — that pitched a meaty premise rooted in today's problems (wealth inequality, depleted resources, privatized robotic security) but then abandoned its thinkiness to action and dumbed-down story-telling.

On the upside, the film looks great (if you can manage the herky-jerky camerawork). Los Angeles is a dusty, monochromatic favela, where even the android cops are dented. Elysium, meanwhile, resembles some 1960s optimistic vision of the future, all gleaming white surfaces, manicured lawns (in space!) and shiny droids.

Surely this is a good time for provocative tales about class struggles, and what obligations the haves owe the have-nots, or what a have-not takeover might mean. But after setting up the parameters, Elysium whiffs the discussion, opting for a feel-good Band-Aid (literally).

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